Georgia 2022: Lester Jackson aims for Labor commish

03/12/2020 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Georgia State Sen. Lester Jackson, D - Savannah, speaks on behalf of SB 40 during the Georgia Legislatures Crossover day, Thursday, March 12, 2020. Senate Bill 40, which prohibits school officials from having sexual intercourse with students, passed the Senate.  (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
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03/12/2020 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Georgia State Sen. Lester Jackson, D - Savannah, speaks on behalf of SB 40 during the Georgia Legislatures Crossover day, Thursday, March 12, 2020. Senate Bill 40, which prohibits school officials from having sexual intercourse with students, passed the Senate. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Democratic state Sen. Lester Jackson joined the fray competing to be the state’s next labor commissioner, joining a growing list of contenders in one of the most interesting down-ticket races in Georgia.

“I’ve heard more people complain about unemployment benefits than anything else,” said Jackson, first elected to the Legislature in 1998. “Sometimes, we get tired of being sick and tired. We can do better, Georgia deserves better and I can deliver.”

The U.S. Navy veteran and Savannah dentist is the latest politician angling to unseat Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, a three-term Republican. Democratic state Rep. William Boddie launched his campaign earlier this week, and Republican state Sen. Bruce Thompson is also running.

Butler’s department has been under fire for being slow to handle the deluge of unemployment claims since the pandemic began last year. Many jobless Georgians have complained of waiting for months to receive payments or register their appeals while their bills pile up.

State labor officials acknowledge they were unprepared for the glut of claims and note the department’s staff was half the size it was a decade earlier. But they say roughly 4.4 million claims have been processed since mid-March, with more than 1.4 million of them deemed valid.

Jackson will highlight his track record in the General Assembly and his role as chair of the Senate Urban Affairs Committee, which handled many of the Democratic measures that passed the Republican-controlled chamber.

He also emphasized the need for geographic diversity on a Democratic ticket that’s increasingly shifting toward metro Atlanta.

“This ticket can be diverse – especially geographically diverse,” he said. “When we look at the ticket, we want to see different leaders from different parts of the state.”

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